Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't? The Lundbeck Case of Pentobarbital, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and Competing Human Rights Responsibilities

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 40 (2):206-219 (2012)
In 2011 it emerged that to induce the death penalty, United States authorities had begun giving injections of pentobarbital, a substance provided by Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck. Lundbeck's product pentobarbital is licensed for treatment of refractory forms of epilepsy and for usage as an anaesthetic, thus for a very different purpose. The Lundbeck case offers a difficult, but also interesting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) dilemma between choices facing a pharmaceutical company to stop the distribution of a medical substance in order to avoid complicity in human rights violations, or to retain distribution of the substance in order not to impede access to the medicine for those patients who need it. The dilemma arose at a time when the United Nations (UN) Secretary General's Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, was finalizing a set of Guiding Principles to operationalize recommendations on business and human rights that he had presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. The article discusses the dilemma in which Lundbeck was placed in from the perspective of the Guiding Principles on business and human rights and the 2008 Protect, Respect, Remedy UN Framework. The analysis seeks to assess what guidance may be gauged from the Guiding Principles in relation to the dilemma at hand and discusses the adequacy the Guiding Principles for dealing with acute human rights dilemmas of conflicting requirements in which a decision to avoid one type of violation risks causing violation of another human right. The article concludes by drawing up perspectives for further development of guidance on implementation of the UN Framework that could be considered by the newly established Working Group on Business and Human Rights and related UN bodies
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